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How to Turn Your Spring Break into a Learning Experience

How to Turn Spring Break into a Learning Experience
During spring break, many families try to squeeze in a getaway. One way to have a fun family adventure is to incorporate education into your trips. There are so many places across America that offer a terrific spring or summer-like atmosphere, while opening your children’s eyes to the history of this country and other learning opportunities.

Museum Sleepover

Numerous museums across the country offer overnight excursions inside of their buildings! What better way to become acquainted with different aspects of culture and history than to sleep next to exhibits and artifacts?

Three different Smithsonian affiliated museums in the Washington D.C. area offer sleepovers, with dates scheduled through the end of August. The American History Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center all offer overnight stays that includes tours, games, crafts, and more.

For families in the Northeast, head over to Pier 86 on the west side of Manhattan and spend the night on the Intrepid! The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum offers fun activities, including a ride in a flight simulator!

The Field Museum in Chicago hosts “Dozin’ with the Dinos”, a nighttime exploration with museum scientists that make the exhibits come alive!

Living History Museums

There may be no better way to understand what bygone eras were like than to actually experience them. These attractions bring history to life by showing what daily life and major events were like in a specific period.

One of the best known of these types of attractions is the world’s largest living history museum, Colonial Wiliamsburg. It features hundreds of reconstructed and historically furnished buildings, with costumed guides who tell stories of the people who lived there in the 1700s.

Columbia State Historical Park is a living gold rush era town. It contains “residents” in 1850s attire, and tons of exhibits, activities, and experiences you would find in a gold rush museum.

Connor Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers, IN recreates life on a rural community in the 19th century. This attraction also offers a look at Native American life at this time. Kids will love the interactive nature of life on a prairie, as they can work like a farmhand, become a craftsman, or ride in a helium filled balloon high overhead.

Landmarks

We’ve seen them on television, we’ve always meant to go there, but many Americans have not seen some of our most famous landmarks. The stories and the history behind these places and modern marvels are well worth the trip.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO is a magnificent architectural creation that also serves as a monument to Thomas Jefferson’s plans for American expansion and the role of St. Louis as a gateway to the west.

Mount Rushmore in Keystone, SD offers so much more than the breathtaking mountain sculpture of four of America’s presidents. Vacationers can learn about the natural history of the surrounding area, as well as methods used to sculpt the chief executives. There is also ample information available on the Native American tribes who called this area home.

It’s never too late to enjoy the summertime, and it’s never too early to refocus on education and learning. Make a last ditch effort to get away and take advantage of all of the creative educational – and fun – opportunities our country has to offer.

Brain Breaks: Helping Students Reset, Refresh, and Get Moving

Brain Breaks: Helping Students Reset, Refresh, and Get Moving
Let’s face it, learning can be overwhelming. With so much information coming in at once, sometimes students just need a break. That’s where brain breaks come in. Brain breaks are short, focused activities designed to help students recharge and refocus. Although typically used with preschool and elementary grades, brain breaks can be used with students of all ages.

Why Brain Breaks?

Brain breaks have found their way into thousands of classrooms around the world, and it’s not just because they’re fun. Research involving children’s brains shows that movement and exercise can improve behavior and academic performance in the classroom. That’s why you’ll often see preschoolers spinning in circles, climbing around, and touching things with their hands as part of their learning process. Other types of brain breaks, such as breathing exercises, also have benefits backed by research. For example, deep breathing exercises can help decrease the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety in children.

Types of Brain Breaks

The goal of brain breaks is to get students to step back, clear their heads, and give them a couple minutes to recharge. This can be done in multiple ways. Some common forms of brain breaks include:

  • Physical movement
  • Calming exercises
  • Creative activities
  • Engaging media
  • Social interaction

While physical movement is the most common type of brain break used in the classroom, teachers can incorporate different types of brain breaks based on factors such as the time of day, the time of year, and their individual students’ needs.

Physical Movement
Research shows that students need to move throughout the day. Physical brain breaks get students out of their seats and give them a chance to get in a bit of exercise. Examples of physical brain breaks include:

Calming Exercises
Learning can be stressful, especially during testing season. Calming exercises help students release any anxiety and tension they have built up inside. They also teach students techniques for handling stressful scenarios in other settings. Examples of calming brain breaks include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Guided imagery
  • Listening to calming music
  • Sitting in silence
  • Yoga poses

Creative Activities
Creative activities give students the opportunity to exercise a different part of the brain. A lot of learning involves logic and reasoning. Bringing creative activities into the classroom can help students connect the two sides of their brain. Examples of creative brain breaks include:

  • Drawing a picture
  • Answering a creative prompt
  • Completing a role play activity
  • Playing with clay
  • Making music

Engaging Media
Students love the Internet and one particular activity they enjoy is watching videos. Sites like YouTube are full of short, highly entertaining videos. Since brain breaks are all about getting students to relax and refocus, showing a funny video or playing a popular song can be an effective way to get students, particularly those at the secondary level, to recharge in the middle of a class.

Social Interaction
Similarly, giving students, particularly those at the secondary level, a chance to simply sit and talk to one another can be exactly the break they need. Give students 2-3 minutes where they can talk about whatever they want without the stress of having to have all the right answers. To keep conversations from getting out of hand, consider choosing a random question for students to discuss with one another. You can also play a game such as “Would You Rather?” or “Two Truths and Lie” to give students something to talk about.

Resources for Incorporating Brain Breaks in the Classroom

Lots of teachers and educational organizations use brain breaks on a daily basis. Here are some resources you can use to find brain breaks to incorporate into your own classroom:

20 Three-Minute Brain Breaks from Minds in Bloom includes activities that range from physical to social. Our favorite is 5-4-3-2-1 which has students do five different movements in descending order. Example: Five jumping jacks, four arms up and down, etc.

20 Brain Break Clips  from Teach Train Love includes songs that teachers can play to get kids moving in the classroom. A favorite video that we think makes a good brain break? The Gummy Bear Song.

20 Brain Breaks from Beg, Borrow, and Teach are organized by time-limit. The site suggests writing the ideas on color-coded popsicle sticks and choosing one every time you need a brain break for the classroom.

12 of the Funniest YouTube Videos for Kids from Cool Mom Tech is a great list of videos to use as brain breaks. We think the Mr. Raisin Toast series is a great pick!

How to Do Yoga in Your Classroom is a nice how-to guide from Kids Yoga Stories and includes a list of other calming activities for kids.

20 Themed Brain Break Ideas from Pink Oatmeal includes over 20 activities involving yoga, dinosaurs, and an alphabet theme.

67 Kid-Friendly Brain Break Songs and Musicians from Really Good Stuff is a great list of songs to play when you want to encourage kids to get up and dance for a few minutes during the day.

Brain Breaks Guide is full of different activities to use with kids in elementary and middle school.

GoNoodle is a site that provides tons of brain break activities for teachers. Sign up for a free account, and then set up a class to get activities organized by grade-level.

Do Nothing for Two Minutes is a two-minute timer with relaxing images and background music. If two minutes seems like a long time, work up to it. Start with 30 second, then a minute, and then two minutes.

HelpTeaching’s Physical Education Worksheets offers free games and other activities to get students moving in the classroom.

Whatever brain breaks you choose, there are few things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep the brain breaks short. 2-3 minutes is enough to get students ready to learn again.
  2. Explain to students the purpose of brain breaks. This will help main control in the classroom and may get more students involved.
  3. Choose activities that benefit students. You may like yoga, but your students might think it’s crazy. If you can’t get them engaged in activity, it won’t benefit them.

Don’t let your students experience the brain breaks alone either. Adults need brain breaks too, so jump right in and enjoy them with your students.

Do you use brain breaks with your students? If so, we’d love to hear some of your favorite activities and resources.

3 Ways to Use Music in the Classroom

3 Ways to Use Music in the Classroom
Music education plays an important role in schools. Music classes help students build focus and discipline, rhythm and coordination, and creative language and thinking skills. With all the benefits music offers, it shouldn’t just be relegated to the music classroom. Teachers in all grade-levels and subject areas can reap the benefits of bringing music into their own classrooms.

1. Music to Jog Memories

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, elementary students learned how a bill became a law by listening to “I’m Just a Bill” and learned the purpose of words such as and, but, and or with “Conjunction Junction.” Schoolhouse Rock songs were a staple in classrooms and helped kids learn a lot of fun new concepts.

Today, lots of musicians have branched out into the world of educational song writing. Even popular groups such as They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies have albums written designed to help kids learn. Other popular educational music collections include:

A YouTube search will likely produce even more educational songs from amateur artists. For example, you may find a song to help you teach digraphs or short vowel sounds.

If you can’t find a song that fits your topic, make one up on your own set to the tune of a popular children’s song.

In the classroom, you can use educational songs to spice up the content and give students a way to remember important concepts. If you can’t find a song that fits your topic, make one up set to the tune of a popular children’s song. For example, this song uses the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell” to teach students about long vowel sounds. Singing about the planets to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus” or rapping the parts of speech may not win you a Grammy, but it will likely help your students tell the difference between a noun and a verb or remember the order of the planets.

2. Music as an Example

From language arts to social studies, music can be used to help spark discussion, provide illustrations, and enhance your discussion of a topic. For example, if you’re studying the Civil Rights Movement, bring in some protest songs. Often songs from a particular era or related to a particular topic can provide more specific examples and convey deep emotions. They’re also a great way to open a lesson and hook students from the very start.

3 Ways to Use Music in the Classroom
Even popular music can serve as an example in the classroom. In the language arts classroom, you can pull songs with lyrics to represent different types of figurative language. You can also find songs that relate to particular themes. In math and science, you can also pull out lines from songs that have to do with particular concepts students are learning. You might be surprised where you’ll find a reference to isosceles triangles or the periodic table. Steven Galbraith, a member of the Mathematics Department at the University of Auckland, has even put together The List of Unintentionally Mathematical Songs to help you start finding songs to use in your classroom and Scientific American and NewScientist have highlighted a few pop songs inspired by science.

Encourage your students to bring music into the classroom too. They’re likely to notice a lot of references to what you’re learning in the songs they like to listen to. For example, rap songs are chock full of allusions and clever one liners, pop music is full of metaphors and similes, and country music offers a lot of imagery. While a song may have nothing to do with what you’re learning, one or two lines may fit perfectly in a lesson. Just be sure to preview a song before playing it in class as some music your students enjoy may not be entirely school appropriate.

3. Music for Energy and Relaxation

If you want to keep students’ minds sharp for a particularly important lesson, put on an upbeat tune and have them get out of their seats and dance before getting to work.

Beyond helping students learn specific information, you can use music to help improve the learning environment. Both upbeat and softer music play a role in stimulating students and improving their focus. If you want to keep students’ minds sharp for a particularly important lesson, put on an upbeat tune and have them get out of their seats and dance before getting to work. This will help wake them up and increase their attention before getting down to business. An upbeat song also works well as a way to transition between two topics or to re-energize students after they have been sitting for a long time. You can even play upbeat songs as students enter the classroom to get them excited about learning or play farewell songs at the end of class as a creative way to end the day and signal to students that it’s okay to start packing up.

When you want students to feel calm and relaxed, try playing softer music. Classical music has been shown to be as effective as Valium for heart patients and has been attributed with lowering crime rates in dangerous neighborhoods. With these examples, imagine how much it could improve classroom management and focus in your classroom. Play classical music during tests to help reduce the amount of anxiety in the room or during seatwork time to remind students to be calm and focused. While students may push to listen to more popular music during these times, the softness and steady rhythms provided by classical pieces are more ideal and less distracting to students.

Do you have any favorite songs you like to play for students? If so, we’d love to hear about them.

How to Use Dr. Seuss in the Social Studies Classroom

How to Use Dr. Seuss in Your Classroom
One of the best ways to ensure students retain and comprehend historical information is to draw on what they already know. This includes using references from their prior experiences and pop culture. Students may be surprised to see the historical connections in things that are a part of their everyday lives. One great resource to draw from is the stories of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss has penned numerous books, cartoons, and animated stories that have deep historical meaning and applications and they can be tied directly to the social studies curriculum. Below is a sampling of how Dr. Seuss can be included in the social studies classroom. While these activities are designed with social studies in mind, many of them can be adapted for use in the language arts classroom as well.

Dr. Seuss Goes to War

Political Cartoons: Dr. Seuss Goes to War

Throughout World War II Dr. Seuss inked hundreds of editorial cartoons about the war and American involvement, including scathing depictions of Hitler, Mussolini and other Axis enemies. (Warning: there are numerous stereotypical and racist depictions of non-American combatants that may require a separate lesson or explanation). One method that that would engage students would be to pick out a real life character depicted in the political cartoon and list and describe the character traits Dr. Seuss assigns to him. This asks the students to identify the person in the cartoon and to combine their knowledge of history and understanding of symbolism.

The Butter Battle Book

Mutual Assured Destruction: The Butter Battle Book

This story is a satirical look at the Cold War arms race that nearly led to nuclear annihilation, using the Yooks and Zooks as stand ins for the United States and the Soviet Union. The songs, rhyming, and Dr. Seuss style will keep the kids interested, even as they are watching a children’s cartoon from the 1980s. The students will simultaneously follow the story and find parallels to the Cold War, so a Story Map will help them keep track of the action as they watch. This particular organizer also asks the students come up with a solution or ending to the cliffhanger, adding to the interpretive nature of the activity. Another engaging activity uses the Boxes and Bullets graphic organizer which asks the students to write an overriding connection between the Butter Battle and the Cold War, then give three examples to back up their connections, and lastly, to add specific events from history or the story to give depth to their examples.

The Cat in the Hat

Psychology: The Cat in the Hat

Every student and teacher knows of The Cat in the Hat, but its uses in Psychology classes may not be as well known. The main characters of the children, the Cat, and the fish each display different characteristics of Freud’s personality components of id, ego, and superego. Teachers can use the Narrative Procedure organizer to chart the examples of each appearance of id, ego, and superego throughout the story. Another method would be to use the Plot Diagram to chart the action of the story as it relates to Freud’s theory.

These cartoons and stories are not just for Social Studies class. The skills that Seuss instills and reinforces travel across curricula, and can be used to meet Common Core Standards. Check out Top Ten Ways to Teach the Common Core ELA Standards for more ways to integrate a great resource like Seuss. However you utilize Dr. Seuss in your Social Studies classroom, it’s clear he will be having an impact on children’s education long after their days of bedtime stories are over.

How to Use Hollywood Movies in the Social Studies Classroom

How to Use Hollywood Movies in the Social Studies ClassroomHollywood movies pose a unique set of problems for social studies teachers: How often should I show films, how much of the film should I be showing, and which films are appropriate to show? The short answer is film is an essential part of the social studies classroom that, if used in the proper manner, can be a pedagogical tool that enhances your students’ understanding of historical events and themes.

How often should I show films?

You should show films as often as your curriculum calls for it. Movies give the students the unique ability to see history happen in a modern medium with special effects and a cultural significance that you cannot recreate in your classroom. The key to using movies well is to use them wisely. They should serve as a complement to your more traditional methods of conveying information.

For example, a primary source about the modernization by the Meiji government of Japan in the late 1800s gives the students the ability to visualize history while improving their skill of interpreting text. But if that source is followed by a clip of the Tom Cruise film “The Last Samurai”, the students see their vision come to life. The students can make a T chart of the traditional and modern aspects of Japan they see in the clip. Think of all of the skills used in this ten minute activity: drawing upon prior knowledge that was gained through reading a first hand account, comparing and contrasting two vastly different eras in Japan, and interpreting the film not as a Hollywood production but as a secondary source.

Don’t let the stigma of showing films alter your best judgment as a professional. Cops still eat doughnuts despite the public’s negative connotation. Teachers should still show movies despite the public’s misconception as to why we show them.

How much of the film should I be showing?

I have worked with teachers who earned nicknames such as “Lights Out” and “Matinee” for their use of movies in the classroom. It wasn’t their frequent use of film that earned them these monikers; it was their reliance on showing FULL LENGTH Hollywood movies on a regular basis. This is not a pedagogically sound practice on any level. Movies are more useful in the social studies class through a series of short clips, not when they are shown in their entirety. The few exceptions to this rule include Glory, Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda because these are stories that more completely tell of the emotions and individuals that make history happen and make it special. These stories cannot be properly told in ten minute clips.

When I was in high school, my tenth grade teacher showed the class the film “Gandhi”. The entire 191 minute movie. Today, I use three specially selected clips from the movie (less than thirty minutes in total) to illustrate the themes of human rights violations, collapse of imperialism, and the importance of the individual.

Which films are appropriate to show?

There is no one right answer to this question so I recommend you ask your school’s administration before showing any movie – even just a clip! – that is rated above the age of your class. Some districts have an approved movie list that is constantly reviewed and updated.

Below is an abbreviated list of films that would be ideal to show in the social studies classroom. Again, I advise that you view the film and find clips that apply to your lesson and reinforce the themes and concepts that you are trying to deliver to your students.

American History

1492: Conquest of Paradise (Exploration)
The Crucible (Salem Witch Trials) – worksheet
The Last of the Mohicans (French and Indian War)
1776 (Revolutionary War)
Amistad (Slavery) – worksheet
Glory (Civil War)
Gettysburg (Civil War)
Lincoln (Civil War)
The Godfather Part II (Immigration)
The Grapes of Wrath (Depression) – worksheet
Saving Private Ryan (Invasion of Normandy/World War II)
We Were Soldiers (Vietnam War)

World History

Gladiator (Bread and Circus/Roman Empire) – worksheet
Luther (Reformation/Diet of Worms)
Elizabeth (Reformation/Absolutism)
The Last Samurai (Japanese Imperialism) – worksheet
The Last Emperor (Qing Dynasty)
Flyboys (World War I)
All Quiet on the Western Front (World War I) – worksheet
The Lost Battalion (World War I)
Gandhi (Indian Independence)
Schindler’s List (Holocaust) – worksheet
Thirteen Days (Cuban Missile Crisis)
Hotel Rwanda (Collapse of Imperialism/Genocide) – worksheet

Not only can watching films enhance students’ understanding and interest in a topic, having your class make a movie is an excellent method for assessment that asks the kids to interpret and analyze material to make an organized and accurate representation of history. With smartphones and almost every pocket and programs such as Windows Moviemaker becoming available to more districts, the ability to use film as a tool for assessment is more relevant than ever. Students can create a documentary or newscast that discusses history as it happens. This makes set design and wardrobe very easy. A more detailed project can be to have them act out history as it happens. Posting these projects on YouTube is another way to view films and share them with other classes. There are numerous examples of similar projects online, enabling you to show students both good and poor examples of what you would like them to do.

Don’t let parents, administrators, or colleagues shame you into ignoring such a popular and effective medium. Hollywood films can be used as an effective tool for learning if they are used in the proper manner. Follow the tips above for maximum impact on your students and check out our post Teaching with Movies in the ELA classroom post for more ideas.